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The Alteration

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  497 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Hubert Anvil is a 10 year old boy blessed with the voice of an angel. The Church hierarchy decrees that Hubert should be turned into a castrato - an alteration that could bring Hubert fame and fortune, but would also cut him off from an adult world he is curious to discover. In a dystopian world where Martin Luther never reformed and where the Holy Office's power is absolu ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published July 1st 2004 by Vintage Classics (first published October 1976)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,285)
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Nicholas During
Kingsley Amis does sci-fi well. If you're willing to call this sci-fi, which I'm sure many aren't. But whether you want to call it genre or not, Amis gets into the mood with this book and does what sci-fi, or speculative fiction, is meant: imagines a world very different from own. In this one the Reformation never happened. Luther became pope. England stayed Catholic. And the world is therefore a much more backward place. Science is a dirty word and the rituals and power of the Romish Church are ...more
Luke G
Before this I had only read a little of Lucky Jim, and Kingsley Amis seemed a little too macho and mean-spirited a writer for me. This book has that feel too, but it is still pretty good. This is an alternate history narrative, like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Events take place in a social-conservative's wet-dream version of England, circa 1970: almost every instance of technological or social progress starting with the renaissance has failed to happen. The Vatican still rules the we ...more
Sue Davis
Fantastic! Why no African slavery in the southern part of North America? Without the reformation, many fewer settlers, thus less need for labor? Note the names of the priests in the second to the last part of the book: Maserati (designed car for Mussolini), Satterthwaite (mathematician, theorem for determining statistical significance, inferences, and Berlinguer (leader of Italian communist party); in the other world of the novel, the three discussed with the pope various ways to solve populatio ...more
Keith
What an incredibly ingenious novel...and what an incredible story. This book is a good lesson in not being swayed by genera classification, or any classification for that matter, when deciding what to read. Although listed as alternative history or more generally as science fiction, it could be either or neither as it works so well on so many levels. The creation of an alternate present day reality, complete with familiar yet transformed, language, culture and customs works elegantly and the sub ...more
Nazim
A young boy Hubert has got a very brilliant voice. His father, mother and brothers are very proud of him. Certainly they wish cloudless future for him. An Abbot in one of the churches in England heard him singing many times. His voice captivated him. He thought up a nice plan. And here who said that radical religious monks are complete illogical folks? So the Abbot proposed a deal to the Hubert’s family.

Hubert was to be altered to serve for “the will of God” as a singer in the Abbot’s church. Wh
...more
Fábio Fernandes
I can't believe I never heard of this book before. I always liked Kingsley Amis' novels, but apparently I hadn't read too many of them. Early this week I found it in a bookstore here in São Paulo and I was amazed by the synopsis - and by the William Gibson introduction (you can't go wrong with such a recommendation). So I bought it, naturally.

I read it in three days - and that's because I had work to do, alas. The Alteration is Alternate History of the best kind. Imagine PK Dick's The Man in the
...more
Fred
Another quick review. This is a very fun novel, but one that took me three or four tries to get into. Once I did, I read the whole thing in about three days. The beginning is very dense - the central idea takes some time to manifest itself, and in the meantime the reader is left puzzling over what the hell is going on. A melange of highbrow culture is referenced and re-figured in the alternate world Amis has created, and it takes some time to work through it. At least one course in Art History o ...more
Bethany
Kingsley Amis's clever alternative fiction novel, "The Alteration" is equal parts disturbing and engaging. The world of the novel is one in which the reformation never took place and in which the church and the state remained closely intertwined and corrupt. Amis's deft and creative imagining of such a world is offset by his signature dark satire and the overall pessimistic tone out of which the characters of the novel are unable and indeed ultimately unwilling to escape. The story centers aroun ...more
Robert
One of the most clever alternative history novels (or CW, as it's referred to in the book) that I've had the pleasure of reading. On one hand, you have the puzzle of figuring out exactly what happened to turn the world into a repressive, anti-science theocracy. On the other hand, you have a compelling account of a young boy's struggle to understand the importance of sex and love in the face of losing out on those experiences forever. In other words, Amis combines the grandiose sweep of history w ...more
Justinbwood
Fascinating book. The Alteration is a treasure simply for the wonderful uniqueness of its premise: a 1970s dystopia controlled by a Catholic church that never experienced the Reformation and Protestantism. It's a singularly fascinating riff on Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle, and written with a quality that makes me wonder if it is a taunt more than an homage, a flamboyant gesture seemingly saying 'that's all you did with the idea?' I'm sure Amis intended it as a clever homage, directly ...more
Chipgc
I recently reread this clever, amusing, and rather frightening attack on the Roman Catholic church and found it as good as I first had over 30 years ago. The skill and thoroughness with which Amis imagines a world which had taken a different turning in the early 16th century is remarkable; the events of the novel are highly plausible given the initial premises; the characters are given surprising depth considering that the novel is short. There is some good evocation of scenery, and some remarka ...more
David Schwan
I somewhat uneven novel. The authors descriptive abilities are impeccable. The plot was fine until the ending. It felt like this was written under a deadline and that the author had grander plans for the book. Late in the book we are introduced to a plot line that the Pope and his advisers are thinking about, that plot line was either filler or something that was to be bigger in scope. The split between Europe and North America was interesting with Europe Roman Catholic and North America Protest ...more
Kirk Macleod
Alternate History novels have always been pretty interesting to me, whether the classic "What if World War II" had gone the other way of Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, or having the alteration to history occurring further back like in Keith Robert's Pavane.

Kingsley Amis' 1976 Alternate Fiction novel The Alteration asks (sorry for the mild 38-year-old spoiler here) what if The Reformation hadn't occurred? How would our modern world (modern being the 1976 the book was published) loo
...more
Lee
Entertaining and engaging, a tale questioning the perspective of morals. I very much enjoyed the idea of this book.

My first KA book and was pleasantly surprised by the 'mordern', for want of a better term, feel of the book. I've read a few of Martins books, which appear to be an echo of this style, with quality to match.

I will definitely be keeping my eye for other titles.
Charlene
Fascinating setting . . . Europe and the Americas if the Reformation had never happened, if Martin Luther became Germanicus I and ushered in an era of northern Popes, including Thomas More. But what would have happened to science and technology if there had been no separation between church and government? This vision of the current world (mid-1970s) envisions electricity as being banned by the church. Only New England, the homeland of English Separatists ruled by their First Citizen, have it. S ...more
Bev
My first Kingsley Amis novel, long-awaited.... The title refers to several circumstances in this novel -- it takes place in a very different England and world, completely ruled by the Catholic Church (in its fictional form) -- history is not as we know it, and politics and power are managed very differently. The ten-year-old hero is a phenomenally gifted singer and composer whose talent is deemed to be too valuable to the world for him to be allowed to mature and lose his "soprano" voice -- so i ...more
Bill
This is an interesting piece of fiction in which the setting is Europe in 1976, but...the reformation never happened. The story is fairly unpredictable and the word pictures are vivid. Worth reading.
Rory
Alternative history where Martin Luther never kicked off the Protestant Reformation, so a Christian England is forcing a young boy to get castrated to preserve his singing voice.
Roddy Williams
‘The year is 1976 and we are living in a Europe-that-might-have-been. It is a Europe that never underwent the Reformation of the 16th century, peopled by – among others – Monsignor Jean-Paul Sartre, a Jesuit theologian and Heinrich Himmler, a papal envoy… and Hubert Anvil, a faultless boy soprano. When the clergy discovers the rarity of this sublime voice, they conspire to ‘alter’ him and preserve Hubert’s genius. The plot against this defenceless creature then swirls in a whirlpool of piety, te ...more
Mitchell
The Alteration is an alternative history novel by Kingsley Amis which hinges on the premise that the Reformation failed, with Martin Luther becoming reconciled to the Catholic Church and indeed becoming Pope. The Western world remains under the influence of a repressive Catholic regime and scientific progress has been stymied. The story itself revolves around Hubert Anvil, a 10-year-old choir boy, who has the most wonderful singing voice heard in generations; a voice which must, by the reasoning ...more
Shel
I originally rated this three stars when I finished it last night, because I did enjoy reading it and it went very quickly, but upon reflection am downgrading it to two stars because of the ending.

(view spoiler)
...more
Artur Coelho
É intrigante como Kingsley Amis consegue criar um ambiente de história alternativa de uma forma insidiosamente subtil, quase sem recorrer ao clássico infodump. Quando a meio de uma conversa entre personagens solta uma linha do género o vice rei do Brasil proclamou um édito quem se recorda minimamente da história fica a saber que em 1960 o Brasil era uma colónia portuguesa. Mas há melhor. Casualmente lemos que his eye passed over St. Lemuel's Travels and The Wind in the Cloisters, slowed down at ...more
Stefan
It’s 1976, and the rule of the Roman Catholic Church is absolute. A stable theocracy prevails across Europe. The Reformation never happened. A papal crusade prevented Henry VIII from taking the throne. Martin Luther became Pope Germanian I. The Church is in charge of all aspects of life, from government and culture all the way down to personal relationships.

Ten year old Hubert Anvil is an incredibly gifted soprano, but as puberty approaches, his voice will break, inevitably destroying his abilit
...more
Larry
Amis imagines what Europe would be like today had the Reformation of the 16th century never taken taken place. Against this setting, Amis weaves his ingenious story of a choirboy blessed with a sublime voice and of the clergy who conspire to "alter" him to preserve his soprano genius (from the book synopsis)............ I like alternative historical novels and this one was interesting. Wish there would have been more details about the way things could have been but book was worth reading.
David
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Talbot Hook
One of the best introductions of any book I have read in recent memory.

Dense, moving, playful, inventive, detailed, intelligent, fear-inspiring, compassion-inducing, tragic, symmetrical, unfair.

A brilliant insight into theocracy and tyranny.
Bryant
I would have liked this book better if all the time-capsule jokes (Benedict Arnold and Edgar Allen Poe as American war heroes, Jean-Paul Sartre as an apologist for the Catholic Church, etc.) had appeared in the first chapter. Then I could have quit the book after the second chapter, when I realized all the jokes were up. As it is, the book is imaginative and in some parts splendidly written. But overall it is a Concept Book, heavy on gimmick and light on character. I pushed through because it's ...more
Wayong
I started reading The Alteration & realised that I read when I was a tween, at least 30 yrs ago.

As a kid, the book made a strong impact (although not nearly as much as various other books) on me. As a 12 yr old, the issues about religion, gender identity, sexuality & child abuse was very intriguing & The Alteration addressed these in a fluid & visual way.

As an adult, I found the storyline & world building were minimal. I've read many more dystopian & historical novels in
...more
Craig Ross
There are A LOT of details to the book's alternate universe that one has to sift through, making some sections very dense. The core story, though -- a page-turner about castration! -- is totally engaging and the overall premise is really different and interesting.
Michael
3 1/2
Diverting but not ultimately as compelling, to me, as the other genre exercise, The Green Man, that I read recently. I think it would have helped had I been a keener history buff, or perhaps British.
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NYRB Classics: The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis 1 7 Oct 18, 2013 01:01PM  
  • On Wings of Song
  • The Year of the Quiet Sun
  • Beyond Apollo
  • Orbitsville
  • Bring the Jubilee
  • Pavane
  • Terraforming Earth
  • Michaelmas
  • The Embedding
  • The Years Of The City
  • The Paradox Men
  • No Enemy but Time
  • Song of Time
  • The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica: A Novel
  • The Unreasoning Mask
  • Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede
  • Limbo
  • In War Times
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Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. He fathered the English novelist Martin Amis.

Kingsley Amis was born in Clapham, Wandsworth, Couty of London (now South London), England, the son of William Robert Am
...more
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“Lyall felt he could not say which of two things was harder to put up with, the Abbot's conversational style, with its bland coherence and assumption of severely limited cogitative powers in the hearer, or his recurrent look of pleased surprise as each fresh piece of evidence of his wisdom or moral worth turned up, but between them they were likely to implant in certain minds a hardy seed of revolt.” 0 likes
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